You’ve read Part 1, you know United made the Top 4, and you know how. But how will we progress towards the ultimate goal of the Premier League and Champions League titles? Read on, in the Season Review, Part 2.
As covered in Part 1 of this review, Uniteds season started slow, had an excellent middle but faded off at the end. Next season we have to be strong from start to finish.
Manchester United have had 2 disastrous summers. Fergie left, Moyes came in and wanted to judge his players. He tried to add players to the squad but it wasnt to be. Whether it was the clubs inability to do the deals or the players unwillingness to move to play under David Moyes, we will never know. What we do know is that we spent £27.5m on just 1 player, Marouanne Fellaini.
It was disappointing as it was widely accepted that United needed an overhaul. Moyes knew Fellaini well though and knew his abilities. He knew he could be the box to box midfielder we needed, scoring goals and protecting the back 4. Oh…wait…Fellaini did none of that.
(I still havent quite got over why we signed him)
Roll on 12 months and another new manager wants to assess his inherited squad. This time, not a squad of Champions, but a depleated squad of mid table footballers who had previously been described as the poorest United team in years.
Van Gaal needed time to work with his players and drill in his ideals. It took longer than we expected and hoped. The majority of new players only arrived after the first few games of the season.
This summer has to be different, and van Gaal has hinted that it will be. He knows where we need to add players, and know where we need to lose them.
United have already annouced the signing of dutch winger Memphis Depay. Few of us will have seen much of the youngster prior to the World Cup, but it was at that tournament where he shone. He has then followed that up by being the top goal scorer in the Eredivisie, guiding his PSV Eindhoven side to the title.
Depay is in, Falcao is already gone. Question marks remain on many more. Di Maria? Januzaj? Van Persie? Evans? Rafael? De Gea? Hernandez? Nani? This just to name a few.
What is sure that United have a much less demanding pre season tour. 4 games and only 2 training bases as opposed to 7 last year. There was little time for training, and it certainly showed during the first 10 games of last season.
Lets remember this one fact. United dropped 17 points in those opening 10 games…..we finished 17 points behind Chelsea. We also dropped a further 10 points in the final 5 matches. A quick start and a settled side will instantly bring us closer to the title.
So, how do we do this?
During those first 10 games, United couldn’t defend. The defence were a mess. Yes we were hampered by injuries but we were suicidal at times. Chris Smalling has developed massively this term. His stupidity at the Etihad earlier on in season felt like time was running out on his Old Trafford career, but the youngster has matured into a real leader of the defence and a top performer. He has even chipped in with goals.
United have Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo to fill the other slot, but the jury is still out on whether either are ‘United quality’. Meanwhile, Jonny Evans looks like he is on his way out after a very disappointing season.
Another top class Centre Back will go a long way to solving some problems with Mats Hummels and Nicolas Otamendi being linked strongly with United over the past months.
Also we have seen Antonio Valencia play at right back for the majority of the season, whilst Rafael has been sidelined to the bench. Valencia has done a decent job back there but surely United need a proper right back to come in and join that defence. Barcelona’s Dani Alves looks the most likely at the moment. The 32 year old is out of contract this summer and available on a free. Another name mentioned in this department is Nathaniel Clyne, but reports recently suggest that the youngster is keen to carry on playing for Southampton.
As we mentioned in Part 1 of the Review, United chopped and changed formations and personnel throughout the season. When we hit our top form, United had Carrick, Herrera and Fellaini in a 3 man midfield, with Carrick sitting deep and the others pressing forward. United were deadly and played to their players strengths. It was a joy to watch United tear apart fellow Top 4 rivals Spurs, Liverpool and City, whilst playing beautiful expansive football in the process.
Then came along Chelsea. They sat back for 90 minutes, willingly surrendered possesion and counter attacked effectively to break United’s new found style. We lost 1-0. The week later, we went to Everton. The blues of Merseyside did the same, we lost 3-0. Tony Pulis’s West Brom were next…same style, same outcome, 1-0.
Three games on the spin. No points, no goals. How can it have changed so quickly and drastically?
Firstly, we played decent football in all of those games, retained the ball well, but couldnt find our way through the organisation of these sides. We moved the ball from side to side. There was little movement and little penetration.
The Fellaini effect had been nullified. We could no longer utilse his presence as we werent attacking with gusto and exuberance. So what we was left with was a battering ram who isnt a particularly great footballer. In contrast, 1 player who would have been more effective in those games was Juan Mata, if he wasnt stuck out on the flanks where United should have been stretching the game with the pace of Angel di Maria or Adnan Januzaj.
These games also signified the end of Michael Carricks season. The stats with and without Carrick are startling. His absence through injury coincided with the start of the poor results.
The midfield area is a key area of any football side and within this system that Louis van Gaal wishes to play, it is all the more important. The midfield are expected to be comfortable on the ball, be a positive passer of the ball, and close down quickly when not on the ball. Its easy and simple enough on paper but it takes a certain type of player.
Without wanting to sound like I am a massive Fellaini hater, I seriously doubt that even LvG could have expected the Belgian to do so well. Im also sure that it was not LvGs preferred tactic. We played to our players strengths and it worked. But then we were found out and found wanting and far too easily beatable.
United need to find 2 types of midfielder this summer. They need a new Michael Carrick, someone to rely upon for the years to come as Carrick enters the twilight period of his career. We are also in need of someone to play in the role Fellaini occupied. Whether that be the likes of Mata or a new signing, but someone who is of better footballing talent is required. Someone who will be dynamic and has an eye for a forward and probing pass. Ander Herrera has done that job well this season and we need someone else who has those traits, as well as physicality.
United have been linked to some stellar names. Ilkay Gündogan, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Arturo Vidal and Paul Pogba have been linked. Lets hope we can sign someone like that.
United also have problems up front. Wayne Rooney has been by far our best scorer this term, bagging 12 goals. Not brilliant, but he did play many games in central midfield. Robin van Persie grabbed 10 goals, despite having an injury hit disappointing season whilst Falcao only scored 4 times. United have added crucial goals from midfield with Mata, Herrera, Fellaini and Blind scoring 23 goals between them.
But with van Persie ineffective for most of the season, Falcao already sat back in Monaco, and Hernandez unlikely to be retained, you would imagine Manchester United would be in the market for a striker to supplement the goals of Wayne Rooney. Danny Ings from Burnley has been mentioned but hes not a player i’d like to see us pursue. A proven, hungry goalscorer could be vital to United’s success.
And then of course is the goalkeeper situation. Not a lot has to be said really, but David de Gea must stay. Not that i think that he will now. He has single handedly pushed us into the top 4 with some stunning and many crucial saves time and time again, gifting us a point or three on more that one occasion this season. If United fail to hold on to de Gea as expected, we should sign Petr Cech. A relatively middle aged ‘keeper who is proven Premier League quality. Hugo Lloris would be a younger and riskier option, not to mention far more expensive.
I’d like to finish Part 2 with a stat. Against the Top 7 sides in the league, Manchester United had the BEST record. We won 21 points, scoring 18 goals and conceding just 10, in the 12 games against Chelsea, City, Arsenal, Tottenham, Liverpool and Southampton.
United did ok in games against those at the bottom of the league, averaging 2 points a game, however the goalless draws against Burnley and Hull and the 5-3 defeat to Leicester were a crucial 7 points dropped.
It was the teams in the middle of the pack where United struggled the most though. 2 defeats against Swansea, a 3-0 hammering by Everton and just 1 point gained from West Brom proved costly to United’s final standing this season. We really must be more ruthless in games against the lower ranked sides, whilst maintaining our dominance against those in and around us.
Overall, its been a good season, we’ve shown that our one season in 7th was just a blip. We are back in the Champions League for next season, (albeit via the qualifying rounds) and we are a team to be feared once again. There’s lots to be done in this summer though, and the sooner the business is done, the better it will be for Manchester Uniteds title aspirations next season.